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The Chinese New Year holiday brought the world’s No. 2 box office roaring back to life over the weekend, as Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back pulled in $83.4 million over two days.
The seven-day holiday, kicking off Saturday, is usually China’s hottest box-office stretch of the year. Demons Strike Back opened to $52.5 million Saturday, overtaking last year’s Chinese New Year champion The Mermaid to set a new single-day record for a local film. Only Universal’s Furious 7 — $68.8 million in 2015 — has earned more in one day in China.
Demons Strike Back is the sequel to Chow’s 2013 hit Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Chow wrote and produced the follow-up but fellow Hong Kong hitmaker Tsui Hark took over as director. The fantasy-comedy franchise is based on a beloved work of classic Chinese literature. The film also made a muscular debut on Imax, taking $4.5 million from 390 screens Saturday, another single-day record for a Chinese release.
Two India-themed action-comedies also opened big, but a notch below Demons, as the holiday was getting underway. Buddies in India, directed by and starring comedy favorite Wang Baoqiang, debuted to $44 million, while Jackie Chan’s China-India co-production Kung Fu Yoga kicked off with $38.5 million, according to weekend estimates from Beijing box-office tracker Ent Group. By Sunday, Chan’s picture appeared to be pulling ahead, however, as better reviews and word of mouth spread. Buddies earned $27.6 million Saturday and $16.6 million Sunday, while Yoga took $20.2 million and $18.4, respectively. (All of the new releases opened Saturday, rather than the usual Friday, which fell on the eve of the holiday, when Chinese stay home to share traditional meals with their families, leaving cinemas all but empty.)
Coming in fourth place, 35-year-old blogger-turned-director Han Han brought some diversity to the frame with Duckweed, an adaptation of his novel about coming-of-age and father-son relationships in 1990s small-town China. The film stars Deng Chao as a Chinese youth who travels back in time — Back to the Future style — to experience interesting episodes from the life of his father, played by Eddie Peng, resolving some generational misunderstandings.
Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds, the fourth installment in the hit local animation franchise, played to the family-with-little-kids crowd, opening to $17.4 million over Saturday and Sunday.
In 2016, China’s box office raked in $548 million (3.56 billion yuan) over the CNY holiday — the highest one-week total ever achieved by a single territory. The huge start to the year had analysts predicting that China might surpass North America as the world’s biggest movie market within a matter of months rather than years. But then a prolonged chill set in, resulting in average box- office growth of just 3.7 percent for the full year.
The big holiday bounce comes as considerable encouragement then. After two days, more than $200 million is in the till. By midweek, we should know whether a new one-week record is within reach.
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